Road Trip: 2014 Mini Cooper travel car test drives mini
Road Trip: 2014 Mini Cooper travel car test drives mini
Road Trip: 2014 Mini Cooper travel car test drives mini
2014 Mini Cooper to Olympic Peninsula. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

Have you ever tried to strap a toddler into a car seat that they don’t want to get into? It’s like trying to buckle up a knot of eels – alternatively galvanized into board-like stiffness or boneless slumping, flinging their head around and wailing. Oh, and mucus. Mucus as far as the eye can see. All of the mucus.

Your average parent soon develops the hand-eye coordination of a Vishnu/Shiva, and a certain tendency to use words like “non-negotiable.” The terrible twos approach, a snotty, tantrum-throwing end to the golden age of infancy. So anyway, let’s cram this little terrorist into a Mini.

Previous multi-day family road trips have been in crossovers like the Santa Fe XL or minivans like the Honda Odyssey. Basically, there’s so much room in those machines, it’s pretty much cheating. You don’t need to pack carefully, you just fling it all in there, with enough room left over to pick up a Cozy Coupe along the way.

With the Cooper, well, good thing I played so much Tetris as a kid. If this was the lone ride for a single-car urban family, then fitting all the necessary gear plus a child seat would be a challenge of the highest order. Honey, maybe the Mini has to go – what about that Countryman thingy?

No. Stop. When I was a kid, my folks raised two boys with a Land Rover and an old 5 Series. My grandfather, patriarch of a family of seven, had a Daf 600 sedan. In Europe, family cars are little fuel-efficient hatchbacks like this, and you don’t need to buy a tank as soon as junior comes along, particularly if you live in a very walkable city.

Moreover, everything fits. The new Mini Cooper is up in its dimensions slightly, with a longer wheelbase adding in a little more rear seat room. Our gargantuan Diono child seat bolts right in, and the trunk is big enough to swallow the bulk of the luggage at nearly 250 L in capacity. We hopped on AirBnB, booked a series of places to stay throughout Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, packed the minimum we could get away with, and headed south of the border.

While editors Jonathan and Jacob seem to love the new Cooper S, giving it a win over the fantastic Fiesta ST, I’m more lukewarm on the car. Its engine is too big (and strangely doesn’t make enough power), it’s too aggressive in its looks – it feels like it’s trying just a bit too hard. Stepping into this plain black base Cooper, fitted with an automatic transmission, I expected to have a similar experience. Fun to drive, sure, but a less-engaging steer than previous Minis, albeit with a nicer interior.

After a droning highway drive and a slightly Guantanamo-ish border guard, we hopped off the interstate, and scooted for Chuckanut Drive. Here, on a curvy mountainside road, the Mini set the tone for the trip. It was utterly fantastic.

Underneath that truncated bonnet is a turbocharged 1.5L three-cylinder engine that cranks out 134 hp from 4,500–6000-rpm, and 162 lb-ft from 1,250 rpm. Fire it up in the morning and it grumbles to life with an offbeat rumble; stir up the boost and it whistles and whooshes and burbles like a kettle coming on the boil. Time for a strong cuppa.

Road Trip: 2014 Mini Cooper travel car test drives mini Road Trip: 2014 Mini Cooper travel car test drives mini Road Trip: 2014 Mini Cooper travel car test drives mini
2014 Mini Cooper to Olympic Peninsula. Click image to enlarge

Even with the six-speed automatic, which lacks paddle-shifters and has a lurching third to second engagement, this little dynamo of an engine makes the Mini drive more like a Mini than its fancier big brother. It’s got just enough power to be engaging, and the readily accessible torque makes it feel quicker than it is. This may be a more BMW-y Mini than ever before, but on the wriggling Chuckanut, it’s got plenty of that just-the-essentials driving style of the original. Bombing along with the massive sunroof open (and the screen closed to protect my pasty Emerald Isle complexion), the Cooper hustled along the coastline with just fingertip control.

Road Trip: 2014 Mini Cooper travel car test drives mini
2014 Mini Cooper to Olympic Peninsula. Click image to enlarge

On our first night, we stayed in a treehouse. Having unloaded the various bags and freed my daughter to romp about the lawn, I was dispatched for a quick supply run, which entailed about two miles or so of country road. Sport mode on. Traction control set to loose.

Your average modern car is so competent these days that driving one in a way that feels like you’re pushing it usually involves antisocial speeds. Not so with the Cooper, which spun up its little three-pot and scooted over to the grocery store parking lot to make friends with a tractor-trailer. This particular car was fitted with the optional $500 dynamic damper control, and while the ride was fairly bumpy over some of the broken pavement, it made a mundane quick trip something of a rally stage. Mini’s “go-kart” marketing is just that – marketing – especially with the new car’s slightly higher seating position, but the Cooper still feels compact and nimble. While it didn’t quite have the grip that the performance rubber and larger wheels gave the Cooper S, it hustled just fine.

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